Early season recap of exciting new college football season

As the calendar hits September, football fans everywhere are thrilled for another season of college football. After last year’s National Championship between Clemson and Alabama, this season has high expectations, but like every season, it usually doesn’t disappoint.

The first week of college football featured Alabama stomping Florida State in the first football game at the Mercedes-Benz Stadium in downtown Atlanta, Michigan’s defense stifling the Florida Gators, and Josh Rosen and the UCLA Bruins coming back from a 34-point deficit to shock Texas A&M. Alabama defeated Florida State by a score of 24-7. “Week one was an overwhelming success considering Alabama got the win,” said sophomore Jonathan Williams.

Alabama’s defense thrived in the game, forcing FSU to three turnovers, 4-13 on third down, and having 9 tackles for loss.

“The defense looked rock solid,” said Williams. “It was encouraging to see the new recruits that [Nick] Saban brought in perform well on the defensive side of the ball.”

One area where Alabama struggled in the game was at quarterback. Sophomore quarterback Jalen Hurts only threw for 96 yards, earning himself a 96.1 QBR (quarterback rating). And, Hurts gained more than half (53/96) of those yards on one throw, a 53-yard touchdown pass to Calvin Ridley.  

“The quarterback play has to be better if Alabama wants to contend for a National Championship this year,” said Williams. “Jalen Hurts has got to be better.”

The Oklahoma Sooners have had an impressive first two weeks led by Heisman-candidate Baker Mayfield. In week one, Mayfield looked outstanding vs. UTEP.

“Mayfield played great. You can’t ask for more than 19/20 completions for 329 yards,” said sophomore Will Hallmark, the starting running back on the football team. “Our backs looked great even with the losses of Semaje Perine and Joe Mixon.”

After Oklahoma’s first win of the season, their week two matchup arguably headlined week two of college football: a matchup with JT Barrett’s Ohio State Buckeyes. Hallmark was very confident that the Sooners would come out on top.

“We can shut down JT Barrett because he’s overrated in my opinion, and they don’t have a viable option at running back,” said Hallmark.

The Sooners shut down Barrett, as he threw for only 183 yards on the night and didn’t find the end zone, likely ending his Heisman campaign. Oklahoma was able to run the ball effectively, even after losing two quality running backs to the NFL Draft. Oklahoma’s new starting running back, Trey Sermon, ran for 62 yards. Although Ohio State lost, they still have plenty of chances to prove themselves, including a big matchup with Blake Gillikin’s Penn State Nittany Lions. Gillikin graduated from Westminster in 2016 and was the kicker/punter on the 2015 state championship team.

Another big game in week two was Auburn travelling to Death Valley to square off against the raining National Champions, the Clemson Tigers. The game was dominated by both defensives, and both teams combined to put up 20 points and 398 total yards. Auburn quarterback Jarrett Stidham, who recently transferred from Baylor, did not play well at all. Stidham threw for a mere 79 yards.

“He’s got to play better,” said Hallmark. “But given Clemson’s defensive line and how new Auburn’s system is to Stidham, I’m not too concerned.”

In the state of Georgia, both teams have gotten off to good starts, including the Georgia Bulldogs, who travelled up to South Bend, Indiana to give Notre Dame its first loss of the season. Due to the injury of sophomore Jacob Eason, freshman Jake Fromm got the start and led the Bulldogs to a 20-19 win over the Irish. Georgia showed up on the field, and the sea of red and black also made it up to South Bend, as the crowd featured arguably more Georgia fans.

“It was a huge win for Georgia because they showed a lot of heart,” said junior William Foshee. “It was great to see them with a big win over a fierce Notre Dame team this early in the season.”

With there being many strong teams this year, one of the most commonly asked questions has been brought up: what’s the best conference in college football? There are many different conferences that make a strong case, including the SEC.

“The SEC is definitely the best conference in college football this year,” said Williams. “The depth that the conference has cannot be matched by any other conference.”

The worst team in the SEC in 2016, the Missouri Tigers, had 4 wins. Out of the Pac-12, Big 10, SEC, and ACC, that’s the most number of wins for the worst team in the entire conference, which speaks to the depth of the SEC. Also, NFL teams drafted 21 players in the first two rounds of the 2017 NFL Draft, which is the most in the history of college football.

“The SEC, year in and year out, are in the College Football Playoff or the BCS,” said Hallmark. “They have the best teams every single year.”

There are also many Westminster alumni playing college football, most recently Zay Malcolme and Ian Ude, who are playing at Penn. Malcolme ran for 55 yards on just 4 carries in his first game for the Quakers.

“I’m so excited to see what Zay can do on the collegiate level because we saw how good he was at Westminster,” said Foshee. “I think he’s going to do big things at Penn.”

Blake Gillikin ‘16 is the starting punter for Penn State, who is currently ranked fourth in the country. He set the Penn State freshman record for punting average in a game with five kicks for an average of 50.8 yards in the 2016 Rose Bowl against USC.

Blake’s brother, Tyler Gillikin, is the starting long snapper for the Northwestern Wildcats. Gillikin played offensive tackle and linebacker at Westminster and was a member of the 2015 state championship team.

Former Georgia Tech kicker Harrison Butker is now in the NFL with the Carolina Panthers. Butker made 71% of his field goals in college and is remembered for his game-tying 53-yard field goal at Georgia in 2014.

With many competitive teams and must-watch games every week, this college football season should be one to remember.

Blake Gillikin ’16 now punts for Penn State and set the Penn State record for punting average.